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What do you use to paint the outside of a trailer?

Painting the exterior of a trailer can seem like a daunting task, but with the right materials and some preparation, it can be accomplished by most do-it-yourselfers. When painting a trailer exterior, using the appropriate type of paint is critical for achieving a durable and long-lasting finish. The large surface area also means you’ll need sufficient quantities of paint. Proper surface preparation and applying the paint correctly will also ensure the paint adheres and performs as expected. This article will explore the supplies needed and steps involved in successfully painting the outside of a trailer.

Choosing Exterior Paint

When selecting paint for the exterior of a trailer, you’ll want a product specifically formulated for the job. Paints made for trailer exteriors are designed to withstand exposure to the elements while also adhering well to fiberglass, aluminum, steel, and other common trailer exterior materials. Here are some things to consider when choosing paint for a trailer exterior:

  • Acrylic latex paint – Acrylic latex paints provide excellent adhesion and durability for trailers. They resist cracking, peeling and fading better than many other paint types. Acrylic latex paints clean up with soap and water.
  • Enamel paint – Enamel paints offer a super durable and glossy finish. Oil-based enamels provide the toughest finish, but latex enamel paint will also work well and is easier to apply.
  • Marine paint – Marine paints are formulated to withstand moisture and sun exposure, much like trailer exteriors endure. Often based on epoxy resins, they provide superior protection and longevity.
  • Paint with UV protection – For maximum resistance against sun damage and fading, use an exterior paint with UV inhibitors.
  • Direct-to-metal paint – For painting aluminum or steel trailer surfaces, choose a direct-to-metal paint that prevents corrosion.

Check the manufacturer’s recommendations to ensure the paint you select is approved for use on trailers. Talking to knowledgeable paint store staff can help narrow the options as well.

Estimating How Much Paint is Needed

Painting a trailer exterior requires more paint than a typical house exterior because trailers have so much surface area. When determining how much paint to purchase, consider these factors:

  • Total surface area – Measure the length, height, and width of the trailer and calculate the square footage. Multiply by the number of sides that need painting.
  • Paint type – Enamels may cover up to 400 sq ft per gallon. Latex paint covers 300-400 sq ft per gallon.
  • Paint thickness – Additional coats require more paint. Following the manufacturer’s recommended coating thickness is ideal.
  • Waste – Add at least 10% more paint for waste from spills, drips, etc.

For a typical 8 x 20 foot enclosed trailer, you may need 2-4 gallons of paint depending on the specifics. It’s better to have leftover paint than to run out halfway through the job.

Surface Preparation

Proper surface preparation is vital for the paint to properly adhere to the trailer. Follow these steps:

  1. Wash the surface with a power washer to remove dirt and grime. Rinse thoroughly.
  2. Sand glossy surfaces to improve paint adhesion. Wipe away dust.
  3. Repair any dents, cracks or holes with patching compounds. Sand smooth.
  4. Use painters tape to mask lights, outlets, windows and trim.
  5. Apply primer to bare metal or other unpainted areas per the manufacturer’s directions.
  6. Allow surface to fully dry before painting.

Taking the time to properly prep the trailer will help the new paint job last for years.

Choosing Paint Rollers and Brushes

Painting a trailer requires the right tools to efficiently cover the large surface areas. Recommended supplies include:

  • Synthetic fiber roller covers (9 inch for flat areas, 4 inch for curved areas)
  • Roller frame and extension pole (for reaching roof and high spots)
  • High-quality nylon or polyester bristle brushes (2-3 inch sizes)
  • Paint tray with built-in screen
  • Painters tape
  • Paint stir sticks

The key is using rollers and brushes designed to hold plenty of paint and distribute it evenly. Avoid foam rollers, low-quality brushes, or flimsy tray kits prone to spilling or leaking.

Applying the Paint

Follow these tips when applying exterior paint to your trailer:

  • Read and follow the paint manufacturer’s application directions.
  • Use drop cloths or tarps below the surfaces you’ll be painting.
  • Pour paint into roller trays immediately before use. Don’t use paint that has been sitting open.
  • Apply paint evenly in 3-4 foot sections, maintaining a wet edge as you go.
  • Use an extension pole and roller for painting high or hard to reach areas.
  • Use brushes for trim, corners, and detail work. Keep an eye out for drips.
  • Apply coats as directed by the manufacturer, allowing proper drying time between coats.
  • Apply by brushing/rolling in the same direction for a uniform look.
  • Remove painter’s tape promptly after painting before the paint dries.

Take your time applying the paint. Rushing the job can lead to drips, light coverage, brush marks, and other imperfections. Proper technique will ensure your paint job looks great.

Cleanup and Maintenance

After completing the painting, follow these steps:

  • Allow paint to fully cure based on manufacturer directions before towing.
  • Clean brushes and other tools with the appropriate solvent while paint is still wet.
  • Dispose of paint cans, trays, rollers and drop cloths properly.
  • Check periodically for any touch ups needed to maintain the finish.
  • Wash the trailer exterior periodically with mild soap and water using a soft brush or sponge.

Proper cleanup and maintenance will keep your trailer looking freshly painted for many years. Touch up chips and scratches as soon as they appear.

Paint Color Required Supplies Estimated Cost
White 3 gallons exterior acrylic latex paint, brushes, roller kit $300
Gray 4 gallons exterior enamel paint, brushes, roller kit $450
Red 2 gallons exterior marine paint, brushes, roller kit $250

This table provides estimates for painting a typical enclosed 8 x 20 foot trailer in three different color options using quality paint and supplies.


Painting the exterior of a trailer is a big job, but absolutely worthwhile to protect the trailer and keep it looking like new. The keys are using high quality exterior paint, proper preparation, good tools, and care when applying the paint. Paying attention to details like estimating enough paint, cleaning surfaces fully, and applying multiple even coats will help the paint job be successful and long-lasting. With some time and effort, you can paint the outside of your trailer and have it looking fantastic.